The UK Labour Party has pledged to ban betting companies from signing shirt sponsorship deals with football clubs, deputy leader Tom Watson has
The MP for West Bromwich and shadow minister for digital, culture, media and sport said that the party would put pressure on the Football Association to enforce a ban itself, but would be prepared to introduce legislation if necessary.
Revealed exclusively by the Guardian newspaper, which has run a series of stories critical of the industry in the past week, the policy is described as the first in a series of new gambling proposals from the Labour party. These, the party says, are designed to tackle what is perceived to be a growing problem in the UK.
"Football has to play its part in tackling Britain's hidden epidemic of gambling addiction," Watson said.
"Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough," he told the paper. "It puts gambling brands in front of fans of all ages, not just at matches but on broadcasts and highlights packages on both commercial television and the BBC."
Nine of the Premier League's 20 clubs are currently sponsored by gambling operators, with a further 16 in the Football League also featuring a gaming brand on their shirts. However a number of these, including Everton's partner Sportpesa, Crystal Palace sponsor ManBetX and Swansea City's Letou, do not target UK customers. Letou is also involved in supporting charities in Swansea, as part of its sponsorship agreement.
Watson went on to cite figures from the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) published last month as evidence of rising problem gambling levels in the country. According to the regulator, there are approximately 430,000 problem gamblers in the country.
This, the MP said, meant that gambling companies should be treated in the same way as tobacco companies, which are subject to a total ban on advertising.
"Just as tobacco companies were banned from sponsoring sporting events and putting their logos on branded goods because of the harm smoking can cause, it's right that we recognise the harm problem gambling does and take gambling logos off football shirts," Watson said.
The UKGC figures cited were compiled based on evidence collected in 2015, a year after the UK moved to a Point of Consumption tax regime, which saw all operators targeting UK customers required to secure a UK licence. As a result, the reported gambling spend has increased significantly, but mostly due to the change in reporting.
The highest rates of problem gambling (20 per cent) were found among those that had participated in spread betting, a product that is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority but for some reason included as a gambling product for compiling problem gambling figures. Betting via betting exchanges was the second most problematic (16 per cent) alongside playing poker in pubs or clubs (also 16 per cent). These three activities also attract the largest number of professional gamblers, as opposed to the vast majority of players who gamble recreationally.
Labour is expected to release further proposals to tighten gambling regulations ahead of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's review of industry controls, which includes gambling advertising and fixed odds betting terminals. The DCMS report is expected in November.